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With more than one million books and periodicals in over 50 languages, the collection includes works from the 16th century to the latest publications in print and electronic form.


Sharp-eyed browsers at The London Library will spot a couple of small but not insignificant changes to the Library’s shelfmarks – the system that details how books are categorised on its shelves.

For over one hundred years The London Library has grouped its books by subject and there are now over 2000 separate shelfmarks in its classification systems. Within Religion, there has long been a shelfmark for Holy Water, even though only a tiny handful of books have ever occupied it.  Recently it was decided that the Holy Water collection – four books in total – was too fragile to occupy our general lending shelves and the books have been moved into our Special Collections to give extra protection. The books can still be accessed under consultation but can no longer be borrowed. In the process, the Holy Water shelfmark on our lending shelves will be gently retired.

At the same time, the Library has taken a broader view of Sex. Originally, this category – part of the Library’s Science & Miscellaneous collection - involved a narrowly biological definition; but as the decades have rolled on, the collection has become more diverse and its 500 books now incorporate a much wider range of topics including gender identity and sexual orientation. Accordingly, the Library has recently made a subtle but significant change to the shelfmark – “Sex” will now be “Sex &c.”

Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros, Head of Bibliographic Services, commented: “We adapt our shelfmark systems on an ongoing basis, making adjustments where needed to reflect the ways in which subjects themselves - and the ways in which they are studied - are changing.  While Holy Water can now be better looked after in our special collection, we fully expect Sex &c. to be part of lending life at The London Library for the foreseeable future.”


Victoria Hislop


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